RW Dog, 3; Council, 0

The Ridgeway Town Council continues to wring its collective hands over what to do about a four-year-old Rotweiller named Bella who has been going to work at Town Hall for most of her life with her owner, Town Clerk Vivian Case.

According to both Case and Council members, there is no history of complaints about the dog whose dossier includes certificates for three levels of behavior training as well as another certificate attesting that she has passed the American Kennel Club’s prestigious Canine Good Citizen test. According to numerous residents who have come to Council meetings recently to defend Bella’s right to work in the Town Hall, she is well behaved and well loved by the town’s residents. She is, in fact, Case told Council, a service dog who performs certain deep pressure therapy for Case when she feels anxious or threatened, which, Case told The Voice, is now frequent.

Nevertheless, the mayor and some Council members are bent on ridding the Town Hall of Bella and have now spent thousands of dollars in this pursuit. Mayor Charlene Herring told The Voice that she is fearful for the safety of the town’s residents so long as Bella is in Town Hall.

As it appears the Town is losing ground, Council recently authorized its attorney, Reginald Belcher, a Certified Specialist in Labor and Employment Law with Turner Padget law firm in Columbia, to turn his attention to the publisher of The Voice who has been writing news stories about the issue and the accompanying hoopla.

In a letter addressed to the publisher last month, Belcher attempted to win The Voice over with random information, not the least of which was an alarming declaration that Rottweilers are known to eat people alive.

On a less frightening level, he offered that Bella does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of a service animal as defined in Section 36.104 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, based on information that Ms. Case provided. The ADA Regulations, he wrote, specifically focus on the tasks the dog performs and not whether the dog has received formal certification or registration as a service animal.  Case told The Voice that she has provided the Town and Belcher with a letter from her doctor explaining the specific services that Bella provides for her.

Belcher also reviewed in his letter what he considers to be the considerable shortcomings of The Voice newspaper in regard to understanding the law.

“The Voice erroneously stated, or at least implied, that the Town had violated the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not disclosing the aforementioned personnel issue and the retainer of Turner Padget in an open session,” Belcher wrote.

However, The Voice has not stated or implied either of those. What The Voice did state in ‘RW Council after Town Hall dog’ (July 6, 2017), was that Council was making decisions in executive sessions and taking straw polls to send the dog home, crate the dog and hire an attorney with Town revenue, all of which are illegal when done in executive session.

In fact, Herring, herself, assured The Voice that Council had approved sending Bella home and later crating her. And several Council members confirmed to the Voice, on the record, that they had agreed in executive session to hire an attorney to advise them as to what course they should take concerning Bella.

“Council approved us to go this route [crating Bella],” Herring told The Voice. “We’ve had full approval.”

According to Council sources and meeting minutes, none of the orders, decisions or approvals that Herring and some other Council members say were made by Council in regard to Bella’s removal and crating were made in public which is required by law. According to the S.C. FOIA, it is illegal for Council to make decisions or conduct straw polls behind closed doors in executive session.

Section 30-4-70 (6) of the FOIA states, “the only actions that can be taken in executive sessions are to adjourn or return to public session. No informal polling about a course of action may be taken in executive session.”